Category Archives: travel

24 Hours of the Enchanted Forest

Twenty-four hour mountain bike race on a whim? Why not? I’ve been riding a lot with my good friend Mark (who inspired my Risk is Real, Use It post, which you should read if you haven’t yet) and we’ve been talking about how 24-hour mountain bike races could help his Baja endurance motorcycle racing. We missed the Laguna Seca 24hr and just when I was thinking that there’s a serious lack of endurance mountain bike races within a day’s drive of Southern CA, I found the 24 Hours of the Enchanted Forest near Gallup, New Mexico. What’s a few extra hours in the car to hit some new trails?

First lap! Luckily the rest of the course was not this dusty.

 

These races are like a party in a campground with a bunch of riding happening. The 16-mile course, with the exception of the dirt road through staging, was fun single track. Sixteen miles of single track! Very few steep sections which made it the most single speed friendly course I have ever ridden. Didn’t have to walk a single section, even in the middle of the night and elevation above 8000 feet!

Spontaneity has it’s drawbacks, and one was that Mark had to work till 8pm Friday night. Yeah. Our friend Paul, a recent Super Randonneur, jumped in for the adventure and I invited my friend Timoni so we could drop her off in Sedona to see her partner (and get an extra driver!). If you are doing the math and with the time change, this puts us at the race at 8am- four hours before the start. Needless to say my total sleep time in the 36 hours before the race was 2 hours in the minivan. Adventure, right?

This was one of the largest fields I’ve ever raced- over 20 solo single speed and more than 70 total solo racers! I hadn’t raced a 24 hour in almost two years and I hadn’t trained for this, but that didn’t stop me from going out fast on the first lap. So dumb! Ha. The backside of the course had a 20 MPH section with berms and little jumps- I couldn’t help but go fast! A few laps later, and keep in mind that 3 laps is 48 miles of single track mountain biking, which tires out much more than your legs, and I see Mark at our camp spot. Oh no, the elevation and dryness has totally messed up his breathing! When I come around again they tell me my place and suddenly it turns into a race. “Here are your bottles and a bar, get out of here!” I try to reason that it’s too early to talk about placing but they don’t want to hear it and next thing I know I’m out for another lap.

These races are ‘slow’ enough that you can chat with others- which I did to no end.  A woman on a 4-female team and I chatted for a good half a lap. She told me how great I was doing and I told her that any idiot can ride fast for 6 hours- the next 18 are what matters. And when I hear myself say, ‘the next 18′ I get a little nervous. What am I doing?

 

My view for many hours through the night..

 

Night comes. I’m still enjoying the course and am loving the cooler temperatures.  Fewer riders are out there and suddenly everyone asks about lap number and place. Turns out I’m back and forth for second place in single speed with a 24-hour rookie named Brian. Uh oh.  First place was a lap up but Brian and I rode together for a little. He kept talking about how he needed to sleep. Those laps between midnight and 5am are an experience I cannot begin to describe. Everything is slow. And quiet. The forest consumes you. Your brain plays tricks on you. Am I lost? Am I riding in circles? Where is everyone? It didn’t help that the race organizers put skeletons and other enchanted beings along the course!

My new endurance cycling quote, ‘The first 40% is legs, the second 40% is mind. The last 20% is heart.”

Paul had cooked me up some veggie broth just before midnight and then headed to sleep- he needed to be alert enough to drive back right after the race.  I roll through around 130am and the party has dissipated. I pound a yerba mate, eat a little, put on warmer clothes and head into the darkness. Two laps till daylight I tell myself.  My legs have given their all for 40% and now my mind is suppose to take over, but it doesn’t want to.

At 3am the only person awake at the entire start/finish is the person who recorded my number. Dead quiet. I make the mistake of sitting down to eat. I feel sick and get super cold. Oh no! I wrap myself in my sleeping bag ‘just to warm up.’ Ugh. I sleep on the ground for about an hour and a half.  At the first signs of daylight I groggily head out for another lap. My eyes are closing while I ride. I’m spaced out. I wonder what my equivalent Blood Alcohol Level would be. I focus on the beauty of the forest at dawn. What a privilege to be here! A team rider blasts past me and I imagine how pathetic I probably look barely moving forward.

Post-race delirium. No, I’m fine, this empty water jug is a great pillow.

 

At camp the smell of coffee is strong. People say good morning and congratulate me on riding still. I’m filthy and wearing the same kit I started with. Paul had made some hot food and coffee, but him and Mark don’t let me relax. My sleep put me back at 4th place. “Let’s go, I’m riding this lap with you.” Mark and I head out and I’m pretty stoked. Him and I first rode BMX bikes together almost 20 years ago! Then Brian rolls up to me. He’s full of energy. Wtf? For a moment we think we’re on the same lap. Are we tied in 2nd place with 3 hours left? Do we really have to duel it out? I’m not sure I want to say ‘fortunately’ or ‘unfortunately’ but he’s a lap up. No need to race. He rode all night.

Mark and I bomb the fast section. It’s dangerous, but oh so fun. I keep looking over my shoulder for that dreaded 1-99 number of a solo single speed racer. That last climb is like a mountain. Elevation still bothering me. And just to state the obvious, my ass hurts like you wouldn’t believe. Finally the start/finish tent is in sight. Lisa, the super human race director, shows me the stats. I’m in third securely. Unless fourth place finishes goes out for an hour an a half last lap I’m good. I’m thankful.  But I don’t change out of my kit just yet- if we see him go by and attempt a last lap I have to give chase to hold onto that coveted podium place. Funny the way that works.

The first meal you eat after these races is always the best meal you have ever eaten.

 

I don’t have to go out for another lap! I eat hot food and I lay in the dirt. Relaxation! Getting changed is the hardest thing I can imagine. I almost fell asleep part way through changing. Ha! We roll down to the tent, they count down to noon and the awards start immediately. They say their thank you’s and announce prizes for traveling the farthest to the race and Mark and I got 2nd place! Free giant container of electrolyte drink- what a super awesome thing to do. Thank you! Then podium stuff, then we pack up to head back to California.

 

Can you point out the awkward straight edge guy holding a beer mug? See full results.

 

On the way we stop at Macy’s European Cafe in Flagstaff for some vegan yuminess and I coordinate via text and the internet to realize that Cara Gillis’ Race Across America 2-person team (check out her vegan challenge!) is on the canyon road between Sedona, where we have to go, and Flagstaff. Yay! Driving down we cheer on all of the teams we see.

 

Swarm! riders on the epic Race Across America crew for Cara Gillis’ 2-person team. Their adventure was just starting- over 2500 miles still to go from here.

 

It was early Monday morning before I saw my own bed again. What an adventure! Thank you everyone at the 24 Hours of the Enchanted Forest for putting on a spectacular event. Next year they host the 24-hour National Championships and I’m sure it’ll be great. Not sure, I’ll be there, but maybe?

 

Lastly, here’s an unbelievable skate video. This is how I feel when I mountain bike on fun trails. Have a great weekend! Stay stoked!

 

 

 

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Filed under bike, off-road, race, travel

Zion 100- Running 100 miles takes more than cycling legs and heart!

A runner at the top of Smith Mesa, 4 miles into the race, just after sunrise.

I hate quitting anything.  But there I was at mile 63 of the Zion 100, about a quarter-mile past Aid Station #7, alone on a dirt road walking hobbling, in circles. It was just after 1am, over 19 hours into the race. I knew Donovan was ‘only’ 7 miles away at Aid #8, waiting patiently to pace me the last 30 miles. My fuzzy brain calculated some fuzzy math that said it’d take me 2.5 hours to walk that short distance. The crazy thing is that I considered it. I had wanted to quit at the 51.5 mile aid station but when I walked up to the volunteers I just couldn’t get the words out (I asked for peanut butter on a tortilla instead). In my stubborn brain it was easier to carry on than to say the words ‘I quit’ aloud.  Now I was paying for that decision, 4 hours and only 11.5 miles across Gooseberry Mesa from there.

When a volunteer’s truck rolled up to me I was facing back toward the aid station. He asked if I was alright and I heard myself say, ‘I am done.’ His eagerness to help me out made me realize I probably looked pretty sad standing there alone in the middle of the night, facing the wrong direction. Once in the truck we started passing other runners and I hung my head low- I didn’t want to be recognized by anyone I had run with earlier. Partly because of my pride, but also because I didn’t want them to be discouraged by seeing a fellow runner fail. Every endurance athlete talks about not letting their crew down- it’s a significant motivating factor- so when I saw Donovan I felt a pang of sadness and my first vocalization was to apologize. But, like any good crew member, he knew what I had gone through and that if I had quit I must have been in pretty bad shape.  And I was.

Running 100 miles has been on my mind for over 5 years now- since the first time I helped at the Badwater Ultramarathon. I ran some 50k’s last year, then a 50-miler I was signed up for got canceled. Then I hurt my groin- which it turns out was from yoga and not running- and I basically stopped running. Getting to those longer distances always seemed just out of reach. Then February of this year I ran the La Jolla 50k in Malibu and felt really good- except for my foot. Did I not train enough? Post-race runs still bothered it. I was already signed up for the Zion 100- maybe I could switch to the 50-miler? But I did what every over-committed, busy person with too much on their plate does- nothing. Oops. Thirty-five miles a week had been my goal- I never even got close. My test run was 22 miles one night and then 13 five hours later two weeks before the race. And I decided to go for it! Like Shawn, who I ended up running the first 35 miles with, said, ‘Might as well start the 100-miler and see how far you can really go.’ Yeah, I like that.

I don’t find dogs, dogs find me! This little guy had some serious energy for it only being race check-in.

The Zion 100 is a brand-new race and the course is much harder than the 7850 feet of elevation would have you believe. Sixty-five percent is on single-track trails, much of it technical, and only 5 miles are paved. The rest is dirt roads and double track. Giant slick rock is everywhere- in many sections spray-painted circles on rocks marked the course. Sandy sections contrasted the rocks- both equally hard to get a groove on.

Technical rope section near mile 19.

This part of the descent required a rope. From here the trail stayed very technical as it ran in and out of the rocky creek bed.

My trip started on Wednesday when I rode 36 miles to a train to meet up with Donovan and Megan who was catching a ride with us to Las Vegas- where we’d spend the night before getting  Ronald’s vegan donuts, which is pretty much a mandatory stop.  Thursday was race check-in since the race started on Friday morning- something new to me. Is this an ultra-runner thing? The race organizer was thoughtful enough to post free camping spots on the site and Donovan and I took advantage of one just 5 miles up the road from the start.

Kolob Terrace Rd, the only significant paved section, very close to where we had camped the night before. Photo by Donovan.

When I stood there at the start and looked around I immediately felt out of place. Am I really here? Trying to make it back to this spot 100 miles and at least 24 hours later? Yes, I am! When the trumpet sounded I raced off at a blistering 12-minute mile pace.  I had met Shawn at check-in and he found me before the first climb and we’d end up running the first 35 miles together talking about everything from his experience at the Copper Canyon 50-miler (RIP Micah True) to our favorite places to eat.

Shawn and I weigh-in at the Mile 35 aid station.

Donovan met me at mile 35 where I arrived in just over 8 hours- right where I wanted to be. It was warming up, but I felt good. I had been keeping a slow but steady pace. Shawn and I ran everything but the hills. Him and I got split up here, but it wouldn’t be the last I saw him. The next 10 miles were hot and exposed trails that transversed the desert in the mid-day heat. But I felt good! I ran nearly all of it and was passing people regularly. Too fast? At the mile 42 aid station a lot of people were sitting down in the shade- no way could I do that. I had only sat down once and that was to get the dirt out of my shoes.

Single track through the desert! Not bad at all.

And here’s where my story takes a turn for the worse. My elevation increased, 1500 feet in one mile to be exact, but my mental and physical state headed in the opposite direction. I was hydrated. I had eaten. My motivation was high. But something happened on that climb. It was one of the steepest trails I had ever been on. There were points where I could reach out and touch the trail in front of me. I got to the top and a water-only aid station and I laid down on the ground. I was out of it. No!

Gooseberry Mesa viewpoint. The climb that wiped me out did award me this view.

I drank some unexpected, delicious electrolyte slushy and I got up and pushed on. The trail was mostly on slick rock- I ached for my mountain bike. I was becoming more aware of my feet- hot spots were now turning to blisters. I was getting annoyed by little, unchangeable things, a sure sign of mental and physical fatigue. Why is this ribbon here? It should be over there!! I recognize this and take some deep breaths. Shoot some more photos and be thankful to be where I am right now. It helps everything but my feet.

Mini canyon-like sections on the North Rim Trail. Probably more fun to ride than run!

If you look closely you can see the 1000 foot drop just off of the trail!

And not long after this the slight pain in one of my toes becomes a sharp pain and I’m forced to limp. Wtf? I sit down and take off my shoe and sock and what I see turns my stomach. Two of my toes are totally black, which isn’t new, but they are both surrounded by huge blisters. One of which is behind my toe, closer to the top of my foot.  One runner stops, takes a look and makes a face like I had just dropped a piece of pizza on the ground cheese-side down. He runs on. I contemplate my options. Two more runners stop and one is an MD! He tells me what I already know- the toenail has to come off. They count down and I start to pull. They both moan, I pull harder- it doesn’t want to come off. The last vestige of healthy skin holds on. It finally snaps off in my hand and I get light-headed. The doctor’s friend teases him for being grossed out- I thought you were a doctor?  [photo at bottom of post!]

Gooseberry Point from the aid station. We did an out-and-back to the viewpoint- you can see runners out there in the photo.

I still managed to run a few of the miles into Aid Station #6 at mile 51.5. I had told myself I was quitting here. But then I went out to the viewpoint and realized I didn’t have it in me to tell them I was done just yet. I had carried my headlamp since mile 35, I might as well use it, right?

On Gooseberry Point. Thanks to the guy from Vegas’ pacer for the photo!

It’s now getting dark and I’m headed out for one of the most technical, confusing sections of the course. I put some motivating music on my headphones and work toward my second wind. I pace with a few other runners and their pacers, we get lost, we find the trail, go up and over so many big rocks I think we’re going in circles….and then I fall off of their pace. I eat and it doesn’t help. I get passed. The pain medicine has done very little for my feet that are aching like I’ve never felt before. My arches, achilles, toes, tendons, everything hurts. And now my knee does. Shoot. A few more lonely, slow, agonizing miles and this is where my story picks up where I began just past Aid Station #7.

A fire at Aid Station #8 warms runners and pacers.

I don’t regret my decision to quit. And yes, I do feel very accomplished for doubling the farthest I’ve ever gone. What is hard to accept is that I never reached physical exhaustion- my feet and knees quit first. It’s a frustratingly simple thing to overcome- just get more running miles in! I’m mad at myself for not respecting the distance and only getting a dozen or so runs done in the months leading up to the race. What did I think would happen? Sometimes stubborn people like me need to be standing alone on a dirt road in the middle of the night in order to learn these lessons. I guess if I was the type of person to figure this out ahead of time I wouldn’t be putting myself in these situations.  At least I know this about myself?

See the results here (pdf!). When a Badwater winner takes 26 hours you know it’s a hard course!

We hitched a ride back to Virgin and it was about 4am when we went to sleep in the park just 100 feet from the start/finish line. After a few hours sleep we decided to head back toward California, but not without stopping at The Bean Scene in St George for breakfast burritos and coffee.

A few questions I’ve gotten:

What did you carry?
I carried my phone, headphones and a few gels in my shorts pockets and sunglasses for the day and a headlamp for night. My only water was one 24-ounce handheld which was plenty for all but one section where I ran out early in the day.

What did you eat?
Mostly bananas, peanut butter on tortillas and potatoes. Gels for between aid stations.

Did you use drop bags?
Nope.

Pacers?
Donovan was going to pace me for the last 30 miles.

How much did you actually run?
Most of the first 45 miles- except the really technical sections or steep hills. Less from 45-63.

I cannot even imagine this. What’s it like?
Imagine a long hike with aid stations where you run the flats and downhills! And remember it’s for fun. That helps. It wasn’t that long ago I couldn’t imagine running double digits! You’re looking at someone who brought two clif bars and two gels on a 10k cause I was worried I’d get hungry!

Why?
Not sure. Scott Jurek has a good explanation.

Did this make you more or less stoked on running? Will you try the 100-mile distance again?
More stoked! I can’t wait to start running again and I’m already signed up for the Oil Creek 100 in October. Plenty of time to train and run some 50-milers or 100k’s, right?

 

Sorry it’s out of focus!

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Filed under race, run, travel

What are you capable of right now?

What can you do today to work toward your life goals? Do you have life goals?

I struggle with these questions every day every hour of my life. And I know I’m not the only one. Often, I wish I had more answers to these questions. It’s way too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of working, answering emails, preparing food, paying bills and all of the other must-do’s of today’s society and miss out on how we can build.

Some people say, ‘Choose your goal and work hard every day and you’ll get there.’ But that often doesn’t work for me. I’m not Type-A nor am I super goal-oriented. I never said to myself, ‘I’m going to study nutrition for 7 years and then become a vegan RD’ or ‘I will ride cross-country and do double centuries in order to prepare for the Furnace Creek 508 in X number of years.’ My brain just doesn’t work that way. If yours does, congrats! I’m envious. It’s an exceptional ability to do so.

But I’m fortunate to have had the experiences and end results I’ve had. And the privilege and time to be writing about them for an audience! One of my main reasons for having a site like this is to motivate people. I see so many folks struggling with what they want who are so close. But they are caught up in the mundane day-to-day I mention above and they simply cannot see the steps to get where they want to be. Or don’t have the confidence to take them. And with reason! It’s not an easy task. My advice here may be counter-intuitive, but these have been helpful lessons in my life and maybe you can learn from them?

If you want to do more, do less.

Be unrealistic in your dreams, but realistic in your everyday.

Ask yourself what you truly want. Do you want to ride a mountain bike for 100 miles or do you want to have ridden 100-miles? Do you want to become an MD to help people or for people to think that you’re smart?

What is the feeling you desire and can it be obtained any other way?

This is the tip of the proverbial iceberg but questions worth asking. You can dive a little deeper and follow one of my favorite twitter feeds, Zen and Tao as well.

I’m off for my own adventure right now and cutting this short, but I’ll leave you with two music videos that are as obscure as they are amazing: a Reggae track about what vegans eat and a Hip Hop track about getting back into the gym. Get stoked!

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Bike Packing: The gear I use to travel light and fast

Post 2 about my bike packing trip from Seattle to Minneapolis. My first post was mostly stories and photos from the 15-day, 2064-mile bike trip; today I want to share about the gear I used.

I’ve now logged over 12,000 miles of bike touring since 2001 and each trip is different in some way. I’ve used road bikes, touring bikes, mountain bikes; ridden off-road, on-road, in other countries; I’ve camped with a tent, without a tent, etc. But for every trip there are constants: you need to sleep, you need to eat, you need to be protected from the elements and you need to somehow carry your gear on your bike. I call these ‘systems’.  For example, riding SF to LA in 3 days I decided against carrying a cooking system and relied on snacks and burritos along the way. But for longer trips I want the option of cooking my own meals and making my own coffee when I wake up. Now what I’ve learned is you can have these comforts without carrying 40 pounds of gear. Below are the details for what I carried for a 15-day, 2000-mile trip.

Sleeping System

In bike touring and in real life, we spend about 1/3 of our time sleeping so doing so comfortably is extremely important.  When it’s dark and cold and you’ve a few more hours to ride it’s surprisingly helpful to know that you’ve a warm bag and soft pad to curl up with! 

From left to right

Mountain Hardware 35 degree synthetic bag- This Spring bag weighs in at 2lb 4oz. Synthetic, has a hood, zips tight and is affordable.

Titanium Goat Ptarmigan bivy sac- A bivy sac is like a glorified sleeping bag; it’ll protect you from the elements with as little material as possible. This super simple one weighs in at 7oz and is as minimal as it gets. It won’t protect you from a rain storm, but helps with wind and light rain. I have the bug net hood option which makes it more breathable.  My ‘normal’ bivy is an Outdoor Research Alpine that is super heavy-duty, but weighs 2 pounds.

Thermarest 3/4 sleeping pad- A pad is not only a soft surface to sleep on, it keeps you off the ground and much, much warmer. I made the mistake of not knowing this on my first big bike trip! This one is 8 years old and has been patched once. They make lighter, better ones now!

Tarp- keeps your stuff off the ground and helps it to last a bit longer. Worth its weight! This one is 11 yrs old, from my first bike trip, which I have cut down from tent size to bivy size.

Cooking System

Trangia West Wind stove- $30! Weighs about 3oz without the ‘windscreen’ which is really just a holder and not much of a screen. Runs on alcohol, which is cheap and easy to find. You just pour in and light! Unlike the DIY stoves you can store leftover fuel right in the stove. I carried additional fuel in a old 20-ounce soda bottle.

Wind screen from my MSR Dragonfly stove, cut down.

Snow Peak titanium spork- I carry this everywhere

Snowpeak 1L pot with pan/lid

Measuring cup- for coffee and when I had to separate foods

DIY pot holder- folded pieces of aluminum

lighter, waterproof matches, aluminum piece to put stove on, can opener

Gear

I rode in my Swarm! kit and had sleeves, knee warmers and a vest for cold weather.

Mountain Hardware goretex rain jacket. I prefer the non-cycling rain jackets as long as they have armpit zips. Also works as a regular, warm jacket!  A good rain jacket is worth the initial expense and not a place to skimp. I’ve gone through enough cheap crappy ones that this investment is worth it. I didn’t bring rain pants. I figured if I’m riding and it’s raining I’ll stay warm enough.

Change of clothes for chillin in small towns. I bring a button-up shirt to make up for the poor hygiene. Patagonia zip-off pants and light weight minimal running shoes.  Outside of my riding gear, rain jacket and one extra pair of socks this was my only clothing for 15 days.

Bag System

Rack-less bags are all the rage. Without racks you have fewer things to fail and much less weight. My original Jandd rack weighs more than all of these bags together! Jill Homer wrote a great article about the benefits of a rack-less system (warning: PDF!)  and the Adventure Cycling Association has started to carry these bags in their online store.

Two very small companies are leading the way in the progression to rack-less bags, Revelate and Carousel Design Works. The seat bag below is from Carousel Designs and the handlebar bag (along with the pocket and dry bag) are from Revelate.  Both are brilliantly designed and built to last. Though, as much as I hate to diss small companies, I have to say I had a very, very hard time getting either of these bags. Weeks to return emails, promised deadlines not reached, unanswered calls…super frustrating. If you are going to order from either of them make sure you have an unlimited amount of patience and time before you need your gear. Maybe they are improving, but from the sound of things on the Bike Packing forums they are not (maybe time to check out the DIY bag forum?).  My other two bags, the ones attached to the top tube were one-offs made by my good friend Chris. The top one was used to store snacks and the one that sits in the triangle stores tools, fuel, lights, etc. My friend Errin Vasquez has been making his own bags too.

 

 

 

From years and years of carrying a messenger bag, I don’t mind wearing a bag on my back. They key is to carry bulky- but light- items in it, like your sleeping pad and shoes. I like this Deuter Bag because it has a light internal frame and space which keeps it off your back- and therefore less sweaty. I rarely carried water in it, but it was nice for those few 100 degree days I had.  I’d link to it but mine is super old and it looks much different now…

Other- tools, med kit, hygiene, lights

I carry the same stuff as I do on a day ride: multi-tool, pump, tire levers, patch kit; and for touring I include a few ‘just in case’ bits like a tire patch, spare chain links and a few spare bolts. You medical kit and hygiene needs are more individual and items that are figured out as you go on more and longer trips. Mine are pretty basic- I do cut my toothbrush and brush my teeth with Dr. Bronner’s, which also doubles as a cleaning agent when your pot needs it.

For lights I used my commuter blinkies and the Princeton EOS bike light which can be mounted on your helmet or handlebar and be used as a headlamp.

New on this trip, I carried a lock. It’s not much, but this lightweight Knog lock could be the difference between someone riding off with your bike or not.

 

Handlebar bag and pocket, recently filled with vegan chocolates.

Breakfast time. Often I’d sleep one place and then roll to somewhere with a table to make breakfast. I usually only carried one day of food at a time. If you are traveling lighter you can go faster and get to stores more often.

   Another view of my fully-loaded bike.

Bike

My bike is a custom steel frame from Seven with close to 50,000 miles on it. I’ve a mix of Dura Ace and Ultegra along with Ksyrium SL wheels- weighs in at about 18 pounds. What if I broke a spoke? Well, that would have been bad. Faith in Vagueness!

I didn’t actually weigh everything, but my guess is that my gear comes in under 15 pounds. It’s traveling light, but still comfortable without spending an insane amount of money.  You could easily go lighter, if that’s your goal. But for me this trip was about having fun and traveling light in order for it to be easier. When you go too light it starts to get hard again. And to me bike touring is all about fun!

I hope this list is helpful and if you are thinking about a bike trip in 2012, you should do it! Nothing beats bike touring.

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Bike Packing: Seattle to Minneapolis, 2064 miles, 15 days

[I’m breaking this trip into 3 different posts: 1) the story, 2) my bike packing gear, 3) nutrition for bike packing]

Logan Pass in Glacier National Park, Montana- I made it to the top before the road is closed to cyclists. All down hill from here!

 

I had arrived at the campground late- probably close to 1am. I had taken a few hours off earlier in the day to hangout at a farmers market and it was now super dark. I wasn’t even positive that I was in the hiker/biker camp. But it was still somewhat familiar.  I was in Glacier National Park and had just ridden 151 miles on the 6th day of my Seattle to Minneapolis bike tour on the Adventure Cycling Association Northern Tier Bike Route.  The Lake McDonald campground is the same one I had stayed at 5 years earlier, the night before Steevo and I started the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route at the Canadian border. Five years already? Earlier in the day, in Whitefish, Montana, I took my time eating snacks, drinking coffee, people watching… I knew it’d get me to camp late, but I didn’t care. That’s the wonder of bike touring. Sure, I missed the beauty of approaching the park in the daylight, but riding along the nearly empty road, under the trees, with a chilling wind coming off the lake has its own merit.  The only issue? The next day was the only morning on my entire trip where I had to wake up early. In Glacier National Park they limit the times you can ride Going to the Sun Road and I had to be over Logan Pass in the morning if I was going to get in 125+ miles.

But I was too elated to be bike touring to care. When I rode from California to Pennsylvania in 2001 it triggered something in me about self-reliance, exploration and physical effort that has greatly impacted my path in life. All of these double centuries, brevets, 24-hour mountain bike races, probably wouldn’t be happening if it wasn’t for bike touring. And here I was years after my last big tour, crossing Montana again, this time East-West, instead of North-South. I’m positive that I fell asleep smiling that night.

 

 

This trip materialized after some changes in my personal life freed up a few weeks of my summer.  I had  ‘rack-free’ touring bags from my attempt at the Arizona Trail Race that fit my road bike, so why not? I had friends in both the Northwest and Midwest I was dying to see and there are still a few states I have never ridden in that I could hit by riding between the two regions: North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota.

First I had to link up to the Northern Tier Route from Seattle so I contacted the Seattle Randonneurs who were insanely helpful. A few days later and I had a turn-by-turn 137-mile route to Newhaven, Washington, which sits on the route at the base of the Northern Cascades.  Here I’d have my first night of camping. Finding tofu and veggies at the tiny store in Marblemount only added to the excitement. Bike touring again, finally! There’s something special about riding all day, watching the light change as the sun sets behind you and topping it off with a quiet dinner in the woods. Really, is there anything better in the world?

 

Looking east from Logan Pass- all downhill from here.

 

I knew from the elevation on the maps I had that there was going to be some serious climbing over the next few days. I was extra stoked to have my race bike and to be traveling super light- my bags and gear were down to about 15 pounds. This includes stuff for cooking, sleeping and even rain gear. What I wasn’t expecting was the heat! It was nearly 100 degrees and super sunny on Rainy Pass!  Even though I averaged 138 miles a day, I wasn’t pushing super hard or riding all night, but I did have to limit my breaks and keep a healthy pace. This was tough through the mountains but became increasingly easier as I headed East.

By the time I hit Montana the weather was less hot, all but one of the big climbs was behind me and my legs were getting used to my daily effort. I was in a routine and had gotten my re-supplies timed so that I only had to carry, at most, one full day of meals. Often I’d time a store so I could pick up food for dinner and breakfast just a few hours before dinner time. And did you know that tiny towns all over NW Washington and Montana have co-ops? I scored seriously great vegan food almost every day.

In Montana I crossed Logan Pass and then cut through the Blackfeet Indian Reservation to cut out the Northern Tier section through Canada. From here: flat and open plains. Tiny, dirt-road towns situated around train stops, not the highway. One could see the next town from 20 miles away. I’d count the number of cars on the trains to pass the time. So few vehicles would pass me on the road that when they did, I’d be startled. It was joyous. And the people of Montana! I took a half day in Shelby to do email/internet and grab my box at the Post Office and it took way longer than expected because so many friendly folks wanted to chat. Love it.

 

Northern Cascades in Washington State

 

In North Dakota apparently I missed a re-route because I was, for the first time, on a busy highway with trucks and no shoulder. In Minot I picked up another package, hung out at a friendly bike shop and enjoyed the big city. I pushed on to Fargo, camping in small town parks along the way, where I sat down to eat a meal out that wasn’t just breakfast potatoes. Fargo felt like Los Angeles compared to where I had been for the past week!

Fargo is also where I veered off of the Northern Tier for the sole reason of riding through a new state- South Dakota. And let me tell you, having great maps to read with a plethora of information really is comforting when you are traveling in unfamiliar territory, alone. Once I was off those maps I was reliant on my notes and getting reception on my phone. I think it was just getting dark when a county road I was assured was paved turned to gravel…I needed to detour. That made for a long day toward the end of a long-ish trip where I was getting tired. Funny what expectations will do- as I neared the end I wanted to be at the end. My limits of traveling or just something that happens when you reach the near end of any endeavor? My guess is the latter…

 

One of the huge passes in the Cascades.

 

But South Dakota came and went and before long I was in the final state of the trip- Minnesota. Still ‘off-route’ I was guessing my way across and searching for a 60-mile rail-to-trail a bike mechanic back in Minot had told me about. A bike shop (yet again!) set me on the right path, despite their apprehension due to its perceived banality.  I was excited t not have to navigate for 60 miles! That path came and went and before too long it was dark and I had to accept the fact that Minneapolis would have to wait till morning.  I camped behind some trees on a farmer’s driveway and thought, ‘it’s late, no one will come down here’ and for the second night in a row I was caught sleeping somewhere I wasn’t suppose to be! The night before someone had called the police on me, which is a first, as I was setting up camp next to a barn on what I thought was public property (the police kindly directed me to a park ‘with picnic tables and a better place to sleep’).

 

I slept under this half pipe one night- some things never change. Somewhere in Eastern Washington.

 

And the next morning, I woke up just like the previous 14 mornings, packed up my stuff, made some coffee and breakfast and pedaled toward my next destination. But this day would be the last of my trip and would end very special- with vegan pizza! I rolled into Minneapolis in the late morning and quickly found the bar with the great vegan food I had heard so much about. I ordered, changed out of my kit and suddenly I was just another guy with a bike eating an entire large pizza. I did like most people would do- I posted to twitter and sat back and thought about the previous 15 days. How quickly they passed! I already missed them. Sure bike touring can be physically difficult and things can go wrong, but there’s something so peaceful about it. You wake up, you eat, you ride, you look around and you think. It’s easy, in a lot of ways.  I’ve come to so many life conclusions while bike touring. I’ve come to peace with many internal conflicts. I’ve ridden myself to tears even! And I love it so.

This story is very late and my photos are out of order, but I hope you get a feeling for what it is like to travel by bike for a few weeks over a couple thousand miles. When I look back on my life over the previous ten years I often smile biggest when I think about the times I’ve spent on one of these trips.  But don’t take it from me, start planning your next bike tour whether it is your first, or your hundredth!

Lastly, too many people to thank! You know who you are. And I can’t thank you enough.  Especially the local bike shops. Remember next time you want to order online to save some money- Amazon won’t give you directions when you’re lost on a bike tour.

More photos below, enjoy!

 

Control panel

 

River at campground in northwest Montana. This photo does no justice....

 

Glacier National Park

 

This was my view for a number of days in Eastern Montana

 

 

The Baker Massacre. Props to Montana for educating people about history and not trying to hide this.

 

Eastern Montana clouds

 

It's a privilege to be outside for the sunset every night.

 

Minot North Dakota road out from flooding! Had to find a new way out of town.

 

North Dakota lake

 

I cut the tiniest route through South Dakota ever- and at night. Still counts, right?

 

60 mile rail to trail in Minnesota

 

End point. The last city sign sprint of the trip!

 

 

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Colorado!

I often express how fortunate I am. I’ve good health and the time and energy to make use of it. But sometimes I feel extra fortunate. Like ‘I can’t believe I get to do the things I do!’ fortunate.  Sasha Perry, my partner for the Day in the Life project, Megan Dean, close friend and builder of Moth Attack! Bikes and I recently went to Colorado to film for Day in the Life and it ruled beyond belief.

Sasha takes some well-earned time off from behind the camera to ride the Dizzy Drome

I knew we’d meet phenomenal vegan athletes. I also knew it would be beautiful, as I’ve been there before. But for this trip Colorado really pulled out all of the stops!  Every where we turned were people stoked to meet us and hang out. We worked full days most days, and then hung out hard with the people we had worked with. Could not have asked for anything better. A few people need to be thanked:

Handlebar Mustache for putting us up and letting us cuddle their five dogs

Ritual Chocolate for giving us a tour of their vegan chocolate factory

Girl Bike Love for the hangouts

Boulder Indoor Velodrome for letting us film and ride every where

Nederland Mountain People’s Co-op for having the biggest AND best vegan blueberry muffins ever

Chris for filming (who also just had a Kickstarter reach full funding!)

Eric at Ground Up Custom Bicycles for building a pump track, a dizzy drome, rad bikes to play on AND being so stoked on me riding them.

And finally we need to thank all of the individual athletes who let us invade their life for a day, or sometimes longer. I promised Sasha I wouldn’t give too much away so I can’t actually thank the athletes by name! You’ll see before too long, I promise.

Meanwhile, enjoy a few videos of me riding during our down time!

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Fall is here, can you believe it?

I cannot!

First off, in case you didn’t see it on @TrueLoveHealth or in my last update, our Kickstarter for Day in the Life got fully funded! Eighty-five wonderful people kicked down money to the tune of $3,880 ($3546,58 after fees).  Check the update for the details and thank you to everyone who helped! More on our project coming soon…

Also, the Furnace Creek 508 came and went and I was not a participant for the first time in 4 years. Last year’s race wrecked me and I needed a break from ultra-cycling so I went out as an official. Chris also gave me access to @AdventureCORPS, which I used mostly responsibly. Was a pleasure to be out there watching all of those amazing cyclists make their way through the 508-mile route. Rookie solo fixed gear entrant and friend Shaun Stegosaurus Arora has a fantastic recap that gives a great perspective of the race adventure.

I'm rocking staff weight, not race weight.

Last month was the American Dietetic Association conference, FNCE, in San Diego. I am the Chair of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietary Practice Group and a lot of my ‘free’ time is spent working with other amazing vegetarian/vegan Registered Dietitians. This year I was in charge of our Member Reception and we took a big risk and held it off-site from the conference at a bar. Would anyone show up? Well, we secured a sponsor and lured RD’s there with free drinks and vegan food from the absolutely delightful Ocean Beach People’s Co-op, and it worked! Over 100 dietitians came, ate, drank and learned about what we do for vegetarian nutrition. Next year the conference is in Philadelphia and our Practice Group will be celebrating our 20-year anniversary. If you are an RD or Dietetics student you should be there!

And last week I had the honor of speaking at Loma Linda University, where I did my masters degree, about vegan nutrition. I love working with students; they are so engaged and hungry for knowledge. And even at a school that actively promotes vegetarianism, there is a lot to discuss. My presentation has changed over the years from the tenets of vegan nutrition to more along the lines of ‘look at all the awesome stuff I get to do as a vegan dietitian!’ I’m not interested in just convincing students that you can get enough zinc or whatever from plants, but that veganism is not about restriction, but new, bigger opportunities. And also, that is about the animals! Sometimes people forget this and I never want to fail at reminding people that this is why veganism is so important.

This Fall I am not teaching college and have more time than usual. It’s both a treat and a curse! Expect more posts and stories here. I’m also looking for more speaking opportunities at schools and other places. If you have ideas please get in touch. My current locale is Southern California, but I do travel. A lot. Ha!

Also:

-I’m working on an article about iron for vegans for No Meat Athlete, keep your eye out for that.

-I have an Instagram account now and I love sharing photos, so if you’d like to see more of what I shoot (mostly dogs, right now!), find me there. I’ve made a very special handle: MattRuscigno.

-I post to twitter with regularity and don’t forget my facebook page where I share nutrition articles and other fun stuff.

-My good friend and spectacular chef Joshua Plogue is in Southern California for the fall and is looking for cooking opportunities. He does unbelievable themed dinner parties that, with no exaggeration, I can say is the best food I have ever eaten. Hit him up and plan something awesome!

What is everyone else up to? Based on my facebook feed it seems cyclocross and cooking root vegetables, mostly.

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